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U.S. Military Celebrates LGBT Pride Month While Still Banning Openly Transgender Soldiers

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Female soldier in front of US flagAlthough the end of June represented a huge victory for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community after the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, there is still a long way to go for the rights of transgender individuals.

The U.S. military has extended protections to gay and lesbian service members just as it bars discrimination against service members based on their religion, race, color, sex, age and national origin. The timely announcement, from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, came Tuesday, right before the end of LGBT Pride Month.

Carter explained the change, saying that it reflects the way of the world and the changing attitudes of existing military members, too.

“Recognizing that our openness to diversity is one of the things that [has] allowed us to be the best in the world, we must ensure that everyone who’s able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so,” Carter said. “And we must start from a position of inclusivity, not exclusivity.”

This shift has occurred just four years after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed. The 17-year-old policy barred gay, lesbian and bisexual service members from serving openly and allowed them to be discharged for coming out.

In fact, the Pentagon hosted a celebration for LGBT Pride Month, too, and broadcast it live on the U.S. military’s internal TV network for service members worldwide.

Yet soldiers who are transgender may have been left out of the festivities. They are still barred from serving openly in the military, as the Armed Forces do not currently have a policy that prohibits gender identity-based discrimination.

And that’s something that needs to change, according to activists. Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Assn., which serves LGBT military families, points out that those who are trans and in the military have to stay in the closet if they do serve.

“It’s incredibly important to note that we absolutely cannot leave our transgender service members behind,” Broadway-Mack said in a statement. “We again urge Secretary Carter to also order a full and comprehensive review to update the outdated regulations that prevent transgender service members from serving.”

David Stacy, government affairs director with Washington, D.C.-based pro-LGBT group Human Rights Campaign, agrees, saying the policy should change to allow for “full LGBT equality in the military.”

Employment protections for Americans based on their place in a protected class, such as gender or sexual orientation, can sometimes vary by state. For example, although discrimination against pregnant women has been outlawed since 1978 with the passing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not all states bar employers from firing their LGBT employees.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 19 states and the District of Columbia have employment laws on the books that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; five other states extend this law just to government employees. Three other states, including New York, ban discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity for all businesses; just a few more states include this protection for public employees only.

In other words, the vast majority of states make it legal for businesses to discriminate against and even fire employees based on their gender identity. Even hiring an employment lawyer to fight a discrimination case may be a dead-end for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.

The HRC also found that of the companies listed on the Fortune 500, 434 (88%) have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation. Just 282, or 57%, include gender identity in their policies regarding discrimination and employee protections.

While individual corporations and small businesses can set their own policies and include bans on gender identity discrimination in their company by-laws, there are no state or federal laws in the majority of states that make it illegal to fire these employees.

No federal laws means that military members who are transgender also receive no protection. The Pentagon also admitted last year that the military has no statistics on transgender dismissals because discharge documentation includes no such category.